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New guide for good complaints handling across health and social care

A new report detailing the expectations of patients and service users for good complaint handling across health and social care has been published to act as a guide for organisations.

The report, 'My expectations for raising concerns and complaints', by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and Healthwatch England, describes people's views of what good complaint handling should be like at each stage of the complaints journey. This includes knowing they have a right to complain, where to complain, being kept informed and feeling their complaint made a difference so the same thing does not happen to anyone else, and feeling confident to complain again.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he welcomes the work to help improve complaints procedures.

The guidance takes the form of “I statements” laid out across a complaint journey. The report says they are expressions of what patients and service users might say if their experience of making a complaint was a good one.

It adds that they present a “challenge to those charged with creating policy and practice guidelines, procedures and to those who receive and handle complaints to truly recognise the complexity of the patient and service user experience, understand what the outcomes of good complaint handling should be, and consistently deliver them”.

The report was developed with the input of more than 100 service users and tested with over 40 organisations.

Some of the ‘I statements’ include:

  • I knew I had a right to complain.
  • I knew for certain my care would not be compromised by making a complaint.
  • I felt that I could have raised my concerns with any of the members of staff I dealt with.
  • I knew that my concerns were taken seriously from the first time I raised them.
  • I always knew what was happening in my case.
  • I felt that responses were personal to me and the specific nature of my complaint.
  • I received a resolution in a time period that was relevant to my particular case and complaint.
  • I feel my views on the appropriate outcome had been taken into account.

Several organisations have already signed up to use the expectations as part of their practice. These include:

  • NHS England which welcomed the 'I statements' and is committed to their use in the way it handles complaints and also in its commissioning arrangements with the NHS. The organisation will also explore whether these can be incorporated into the Planning Guidance for the NHS in 2015/16.
  • The Trust Development Authority will use it to support trusts to improve their complaint handling processes.
  • The Foundation Trust Network (soon to be NHS Providers) said it will support NHS trusts and foundation trusts to explore how the work can be used to establish and share best practice about managing and resolving complaints.
  • The Local Government Ombudsman will use the expectations to form the basis of its 'good complaint handling' training, delivered to local authorities and to be extended to private social care providers. It will also be applied to the investigations they undertake and to complaints about themselves.
  • The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman will use the expectations for complaints about themselves. It will also provide a useful insight in the development of the Service Charter.

In addition the expectations are also consistent with the assessment framework used by the CQC in its inspections of health and adult social care services in England.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: “For the first time patients and service users’ expectations and experiences of raising a concern and complaint can be measured and used to drive improvements in complaint handling.

“Ultimately we want all patients and service users to be able to say: 'I felt confident to speak up and making my complaint was simple. I felt listened to and understood. I feel that my complaint made a difference'.

“We will now work with regulators, commissioners and providers to develop measurement tools to establish areas they need to improve, take actions to get there and see if they have succeeded in delivering an experience the public say is better.”

David Behan, CQC chief executive, said that complaints provide vital information to help the watchdog understand what a care service is really like. “These expectations for complaints handling are consistent with the good practice we look for,” he added.

The Foundation Trust Network welcomed the report. Miriam Deakin, FTN head of policy, said it was a “true patient-centred approach to complaints handling”.

She continued: “This publication provides a helpful ‘vision’ for complaints handling and its implementation will be led by trust boards and partners in primary and social care, taking ownership of their complaints processes, actively involving staff and championing change from within. Whilst we must ensure there is minimal additional bureaucratic burden to our members in providing frontline care, we look forward to working with our members and the PHSO to explore how the vision can be used at a practical level to establish and share best practice in managing and resolving complaints for the benefit of NHS staff and the public.”

(Image: c. alexskopje)

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